Archaeological Findings

How was the terracotta army built?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. In 1974, a group of Chinese farmers accidentally unearthed the remains of the ancient Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi's now-famous terracotta army. Qin was China's first emperor, and though many records told of his lavish, treasure-filled tomb, no one had yet discovered the massive army of clay warriors he had built to protect him after his death.

    The soldiers were shaped out of soft clay and then baked in kilns so they would become rigid -- this terracotta craft technique has been common throughout history all around the world. Assembly lines of 1,000 workers each pounded out bases for the soldiers [source: High Museum]. They made the legs in a uniform mold, and heads, torsos, arms and hands also were uniformly produced but in different sizes, to create variation among the troops. The models show incredible attention to realistic detail: Hair and hats often sat slightly off-center on each soldier's skull, and the bottoms of the clay footwear showed textured treading. Details such as facial expressions were sculpted by hand by individual craftsmen, and the various expressions give the army a strange and powerful emotional resonance. Some soldiers seem to be exhibiting a belligerent eagerness for battle, while others appear peaceful and taciturn.

    Several different head molds have been discovered, representing ethnic diversity, and varying facial features were sculpted. Higher-ranking troops bear more elaborate caps and hairstyles. There are also different classes of soldiers, from archers bearing crossbows to cavalry to standard infantrymen.

    After baking, the statues were painted with lacquer and various pigments. When finished, each terracotta figure stood between 6 and 6.5 feet (1.8 and 2 meters) tall, and each weighed about 330 pounds (about 150 kilograms). It is estimated that in the original, undisturbed construction of Emperor Qin's tomb, which took around 700,000 workers to build, there were more than 7,000 clay warriors [source: High Museum].

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